Sidestep: Pitcairn Islands discoveries

April 28, 2016

The Pitcairn Islands which comprise of Pitcairn and a low lying island called Henderson Island, Ducie Is, and Oeno Is, have revealed statues with evidence of eastern and western Pacific cultural influences. The only conclusion to be made is that much Pacific voyaging took place in both directions (or did it?), but whether it was trade, flight or exploration, that extent we will never know. So here is information, firstly on Henderson Island and then Pitcairn Island.




Henderson Island Moai


A recent landslide on Henderson Island in 2014 unearthed the first ever Moai statue to be found outside of Easter Island, a discovery that could shatter previous beliefs about the builders of these mysterious megaliths. The chance discovery that was made by biologists from University of Chile completely took the team of researchers by surprise who were on the island to study the unique fauna and flora of the inhabited coral atoll. The news of the discovery astounded their research fellows from the Department of Archaeology at University of Chile who quickly flew out to the site of the historical find.



Originally thought to be unique to Easter Island, the building of the Moai statues have remained a mystery for archaeologists for centuries as no oral tradition has survived from this megalith-building culture. “Perhaps there is more of these Moai statues on other islands, and possibly underwater. Has a great catastrophe submerged these islands at one time in history and covered them with heaps of mud and stones?” asks professor Juan DeSilva. “These questions can only be answered by further research” he admits, visibly enthused by the discovery. “It was previously thought that the islanders themselves tore down and buried the standing Moais after their civilization had broken down. Some theorists believe this civilization destroyed itself by overburdening the natural resources of Easter Island, such as chopping down the native forests for use of fire and/or even to build the Moai statues” explains Vincento Morales, PhD student and fellow research participant. “Would not the explanation of a massive tidal wave or great hurricane better explain the hundreds of buried statues on the island and the lack of forests in the area?” he ponders. “Have great catastrophes in ancient times destroyed, in an instant, all traces of what was once a great civilization that spread across the Pacific Ocean?” asks professor Juan DeSilva from University of Chile. “If cyclones and hurricanes do not presently occur around Easter Island, some recent theories hold that the climate might have been much different in ancient times”, claims the expert. “The impact of a great meteorite or the close path of a comet, such as recorded in oral traditions of the Polynesian peoples of the Pacific region, could explain such dramatic changes in climate”. 


More than 2,000 km separate Easter Island from the Pitcairn Islands, where the discovery was made, a challenge to previous beliefs about the Moai builders civilization. Henderson Island is part of the Pitcairn Islands, a group of four volcanic islands in the southern Pacific Ocean that form the last British Overseas Territory in the Pacific. Only Pitcairn, the second largest island measuring about 3.6 kilometres (2.2 mi) from east to west, is inhabited.


This find was deemed to be a fake by those on Pitcairn who said..."Landslide unearths Easter Island moai in Pitcairn Islands” was a headline on facebook last month, but there were enough skeptical readers to reveal that this picture supposedly from Henderson Island, was definitely not, and we here on Pitcairn would have known if a Chilean scientific expedition were digging on Henderson. Been a lot of bogus ‘news’ about Pitcairn lately." However one should note that Pitcairn Islanders only go to Henderson once a year and could easily be unaware of visitors. 


Conclusion: Because the photo gives no context, there are no further reports or photos since 2014, and the fact that boulders such as in the picture do not exist on Henderson island, it is easy to conclude that this find is actually a fake. Most fakes are not hard to spot. But I have included it to show you how easily people are taken in by things they want to be true.





However, what is real is an interesting find of part of a statue from Pitcairn Island itself. Here's the background to the story. 


After the mutiny on the Bounty, Fletcher Christian and his followers with their Tahitian wives and servants attempted to settle on Tupuai in the Austral Islands. Conflict broke out between the newcomers and the inhabitants, and the mutineers were forced to take ship to seek some other refuge. Fate and a knowledge of Carteret's discovery directed them to Pitcairn Island. Here, in 1789, they sank the ill-fated PAGE 223Bounty off the sole landing place in the bay now termed Bounty Bay. With the memory of the hostile treatment in Tupuai fresh in their minds, the mutineers must have exercised great caution as they climbed the steep ascent from the landing place to the more level slopes above. They had seen no canoes or smoke, but in the rich vegetation they saw breadfruit trees which warned them of human occupation. On a peak near the edge of the cliff facing Bounty Bay they saw an arresting sight.


Rocks had been carefully placed together to form a quadrangular platform, and on each corner a stone image with its back to the sea gazed disapprovingly at the intruders on their sacred domain. But the temple and the gods were mute, for the people who had created them had mysteriously disappeared. The mutineers or their offspring dismantled the temple above Bounty Bay and some others that had been erected on other parts of the island. The helpless stone gods were rolled over the near-by cliff and carried their secrets to the bottom of Bounty Bay. In destroying the Bounty Bay temple, a human skeleton was found interred in the structure with its head pillowed on a large pearl shell. The pearl shell gave evidence of contact with Mangareva or some atoll in the Tuamotu archipelago.


Pitcairn Tiki remains (Otago Museum)


In digging the foundations of houses and preparing cultivation's, the mutineers found human bones interred below the surface. Stone adzes and gouges have been discovered from time to time and have found their way into various museums. Some of the implements are well shaped and well ground, and others are peculiar for their large size. The implements are better made than those of neighbouring Mangareva. Petroglyphs have been found on the cliffs in the form of men, animals, birds, and geometrical figures including circles and stars. Shallow pits lined with stones and ashes in position bear witness to the use of the Polynesian earth oven.


The Franco-Belgian Expedition to Easter Island visited Pitcairn in 1935, and the scattered evidences of ancient occupation have been summarized by Henri Lavachery, a member of the expedition. Lavachery found that one of the images from the Bounty Bay temple had been picked up at the base of the cliff and used as a pile to support the veranda of a house. The image was extricated for examination. It was made of yellowish coloured local volcanic tuff and consisted of a trunk without legs. The head had broken off, but there were two five-fingered hands clasped on the abdomen in a characteristic Polynesian attitude. The archaeological evidence from temples, images, and stone tools shows that the vanished people of Pitcairn Island were Polynesian.


Note from the photo above that the hands across the abdomen are very much like Maori Pou from about 1650 onwards. Did the new Pacific 'cult' that spread from the religious capital of Raiatea to NZ also travel east looking for places to thrive?




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